quadcopter performances – military drones in arts

Drones as transporters for cameras and equipment? Sure, we have that! But drones as actors in performances, visuals or movies? Well, why not! Give it some meaning, give it some magic. Aside from many presentations in the defense sector, here are some beautiful examples of what is possible in performing arts with these little high tech wonders. Now please: quit the wars!

SPARKED: A Live Interaction Between Humans and Quadcopters

SPARKED: Behind the Technology:

Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The collaboration resulted in a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync. Precise computer control allows for a large performance and movement vocabulary of the quadcopters and opens the door to many more applications in the future.

elevenplay dance performance with drones at Spiral Hall

This is a collaboration developed by elevenplay×Rhizomatiks who has been the pursuing possibilities of relationship and interaction between the body and technology by interacting with a variety of hardware and devices such as robot arms and motor-controlled floating balls. In this new work, objects are arranged three-dimensionally in real space through a tracking technology and drone control system, and the work, in which dancers give performances, has been presented so as to find the possibility of a new bodily expression.

With the development of video and image analysis technologies, trials to deal with the body as data and to expand the body have been conducted using such methods as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. One problem was, for instance, that a dancer had to wear a head mounted display or while looking at images on a projector. Since an intuitive approach is still difficult, a new experimental work employing advanced control and analysis technologies is required. As there is a limit to the output of images, it is necessary to use physical devices and objects so as to expand bodily expression presented in real space.

A system in which dancers can physically and more intuitively perceive the relationship between the body and data through computer-controlled drones has been developed. There are two kinds of drone movements: a motion produced by tracking a dancer’s movements and an artificial motion operated on the software. At first, dancers had to be trained to interact with the drones because they could not predict how they would move, but eventually they were able to dance with the drones as closely as 10cm away from them.

system installation:
Cameras with the motion capture system are used for the position analysis of the drones, 10 to 15 of which are needed. They are installed on the ceiling with a camera mount, or set up around the stage using tall tripods. Three retro reflective markers are attached to each drone so as to identify the position and angle. (See the figure for details.)

system hardware:
Using the position information of the drones, tracked by the motion capture system, the positions of three drones are controlled through feedback control. AscTec Hummingbird 2012 is used for the drones. In order to cope with problematic situations, manual operation is available at anytime; so if the tracking system has a problem, the drones can be landed automatically and safely.

system software:
Flight patterns have been created through various methods, e.g. producing them with original software, importing data from CG software, and using Ableton Live. For the analysis of the dancers‘ movements, the conventional method is used with retro reflective markers attached to them and motion capture cameras. We adopted a method in which these data are recorded, or captured in real time, processed, and played back so that the drones move according to the dancers‘ movements.

three-dimensional object:
A quadrangular pyramid-shaped object is attached to the upper part of each drone for better visual confirmation. In the beginning, a sphere-shaped object was used, but it was difficult to confirm the drone’s spinning movements visually. That is why an object of another shape was used. While motion is restricted due to greater air resistance, a quadrangular pyramid-shaped object was attached in order to improve expression and secure dancers‘ safety.

physical motion:
The dance shows the beauty and difficulty which come from resistance to gravity and inertia. Viewers are able to appreciate this naturally through their experience, and the same thing applies to the drones. The limits, motion dynamism, and a locus that is impossible to make with CG are produced by physical laws such as gravity, inertia and air resistance. Though the three-dimensional object was originally attached to improve visibility, it eventually played not only the role of making drones look bigger but also became an important element in emphasizing the motion and visualization of the interaction between the dancers and the laws of physics.

As a step further, a projection was sometimes conducted for the object attached to the drone in order to improve visibility. While the system functions, the content has potential for further development. The work will be continually updated in the future.

Ars Electronica – Drone light performance Quadrocopter

Quadrocopters turn into pixels at the voestalpine Klangwolke and form 3D-Modells in the sky. As a world-premiere, the Ars Electronica Futurelab has managed to fly a formation outdoor with so many quadrocopters, painting some moments of magic into the nightsky of Linz.

.. the spaxels have been in formation flight on different events, like the Sharjah 2014 – Islamic Capital of Culture Opening -, Star Trek Into the Darkness Promotion (London 2013) or Klangwolke, Linz 2012. For further information, please visit: http://www.aec.at/spaxels/

and probably the most complex performance from the technical side:


Making of:

A troupe of 16 quadrotors (flying robots) dance to and manipulate sound and light at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors‘ Showcase 2012.

Event concept created by
Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith, Saatchi & Saatchi